There is always a sense of dread whenever you receive the bill after eating food at a restaurant; unless you add it up yourself beforehand, you can never be sure how much you’re paying for your delicious meal. But on one recent trip to a restaurant with some friends, when I received the bill, I couldn’t help but burst out laughing. Underneath my order, was something that the waitress had written about me: ‘Allergy girl’. When I was ordering my food earlier that day, I had told the waitress that I had restrictions with what I could eat. To see that description of me on the bill had me and my friends in stitches. It was something that we didn’t expect but it was funny.
But in truth, living with allergies is no laughing matter.
In Ireland, approximately 5% of children and 3% of adults suffer from some form of food allergy. The rate of severe allergic reactions which result in a visit to A&E has trebled over the last twenty years. The most common food allergies in Ireland are cow’s milk, eggs, nuts, fish, wheat, soya, and peanuts. These account for about 90% of all allergic reactions in people.
To live with food allergies means to be always on your guard. You are always examining food in the supermarket, constantly checking the ingredients to make sure that they’re safe for you to eat. It’s even worse in restaurants because you always must speak with waiters about your limits, to make sure that they have at least something for you to eat. Living with food allergies means living on a restricted diet, always being cautious with what could possibly cause you harm.
It’s frustrating as well, particularly if you see people enjoying food that you can’t eat because of allergies. You often get a sense of feeling left out. As children begin to grow up, they can feel embarrassed and try to hide their allergies from people around them. They feel they can’t talk to their friends about it because they don’t think their friends would understand.
In some cases, people tend to hide their allergies, which is never a good idea. I tried to do that once. I ended up in the hospital suffering from anaphylactic shock after eating ONE bite of food. It was the most terrifying experience of my life.
Any allergic reaction is frightening, for both the sufferer and those around them. Parents of children who suffer from allergies gradually begin to recognize trigger points, learn what foods to stay away from, help others understand that their child is not being fussy when it comes to food. No parent wants to see their child in A&E because of an allergic reaction.
By law, all restaurants’ menus must display information in relation to allergens in their choices. They must all be aware of how to manage a case if a customer ever suffers from an allergic reaction. All food packets must now display allergen warnings and information in relation to their ingredients. It’s extremely important that for any allergic reaction, restaurant staff undergo the necessary training.
Whenever I leave home, I must carry an ana-pen, inhaler, and antihistamine tablets. It’s important that people know how to use ana-pens in case of any emergency. Knowing how to use them, has the potential to save somebody’s life. I am also a lot more vocal about my allergies and always inform every restaurant that I go to, what I’m not able to eat. People are a lot more understanding than you would expect.
Allergies must not be hidden from society; any reaction can prove fatal. They’re something that people didn’t ask to have, but they can learn to live with them. They are frustrating, no doubt about it, but the good thing is, that we can cope with them.
The true reality of living with food allergies is that you always must be that little bit more careful with what you eat. It’s frustrating, I am not going to deny that. But I can say from experience, that it’s far better to be cautious than to be rushed to the hospital struggling to breathe because of something you ate.